Last Saturday night I lit a candle in the upstairs bar of the Stonewall Hotel as members of the LGBT community, straight friends and allies gathered for the #Vigil4Hope. A symbolic act? A ritual?
#Vigil4Hope was held to remember LGBT people who had taken their own lives because the torment of trying to reconcile their faith and sexuality became too much.
Lighting a candle for one of our LGBT community who has suicided actually changes nothing. It’s too late. They are gone. Whilst the focus is on the person no longer with us, the symbolic act is more for the vigil holders’ benefit and it also creates awareness.
Symbolism, however can be nothing more than empty, ritualistic tradition. For example, some religious people will attend a service this weekend. One of only two they attend all year; the other being Christmas. The priest will reprimand the swollen congregation for not attending the other fifty Sundays. Far from being a meaningful act, their attendance at church was possibly motivated by nothing more than fear, guilt, tradition or sense of obligation.
Other Christians will find the celebrations over the Easter weekend profoundly meaningful. Good Friday a day of deep reflection believing that God came in the form of human flesh to save a lost humanity. Easter Sunday they rejoice that Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day.
Having been brought up a traditional Anglican and later a popular preacher in Australia’s mega-churches for many years, I am very familiar with the meaning and symbolism of Easter.
Easter essentially symbolises three things. Suffering, death and resurrection. The suffering of Christ once arrested and tried, the death by crucifixion and then rising from the grave on the third day. Many LGBT people are intimately familiar with these three experiences. They echo the journey many of us have taken.
If you were able to sit through Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ”, you know the iconic images of a limp, loin clothed Jesus hanging soulfully on a cross are far from the reality of a Roman crucifixion. He suffered and beaten so much he was unrecognizable before he was hung on the cross.
Coming to the realisation we are gay, lesbian or transgender happens, if not in our early years, around puberty. This can be a frightening revelation, as we may never have heard any affirming messages; probably only derogatory statements. Immediately the person begins to think of themselves as ‘abnormal’, dysfunctional, broken or bad. And so…the internal suffering begins. But they can also suffer in their homes, churches or workplaces through rejection or discrimination.
“Not these days” you say. My friend you live in a bubble.
All is still not well for many LGBT people not only in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and other parts of the world but only kilometres from where you are now. The impact of the discovery about ourselves depends on where you live, the family or culture you’re raised in and if religion is involved. The reality is that there are gay and lesbian youth, in Sydney’s suburbs, whose parents have seriously threatened their teenagers with the words “you better not turn out gay or I’ll kill you”. They live in fear. Many of us lived with this internal torment for years – even decades. I have worked with people still coming out in their 50’s and even 60’s. Tragically, more of their life has been spent suffering in a closet tormented by demons of shame and fear, than out.
Easter also symbolises death. So many of us lived double lives. We created a persona and image in order to be loved, accepted and fit in to an overwhelmingly predominately straight world. We did everything to kill and eradicate the gay self. In order to experience true self-acceptance and live authentically the false image we have created to protect ourselves must die. Parents and friends may grieve when the true-self comes out and pretend-self dies. The person they thought we were no longer exists.
Which brings us to the resurrection. There is nothing more liberating than to have come out the other side of gay shame into gay pride. To know you are not broken and needing fixing, sick and in need of healing. That self-loathing has been transformed into more than just self-acceptance – but self-love. We emerge leaving behind the cloth of shame we were once shrouded in.
The LGBT journey is a privileged, sacred path. Not unlike the mythic hero’s path described by Joseph Campbell. Our orientation or gender identity has forced us on a journey that only four to six percent get to experience. A journey we didn’t choose but life gave to us. What we once may have considered a curse we now embrace and celebrate. Those of us who make it through the maze find peace, resolution, pride and a life of rich experiences.
So this Easter, while you are having your four day weekend, take a moment to remember our LGBT brothers and sisters here and other parts of the world who still suffer, some face death and celebrate your own resurrection into being true to yourself. Some may be closer than you think.
© Anthony Venn-Brown